This is the second  part of an extended review by Allan Armstrong, which  addresses some of the issues raised in John McAnulty’s new book. 



Allan Armstrong reviews

Ireland’s Partition: Coda to counterrevolution by John McAnulty




Women’s dustin lid protests in the communities of resistance

a) From the communities of resistance under Stormont mark 1 to the GFA under Stormont mark 2

b) Ireland in and beyond the 1967-1975 International Revolutionary Wave

c) The British Left and its weak understanding of the anti- democratic, unionist nature of the UK state

d) Changing contexts, changing politics

e) Defeat or setback to an unfinished revolution?

 f) The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – from ‘No Surrender’ Loyalism to a new accommodation with the UK state

 g) Post-GFA Ireland – Sinn Fein helps to police Stormont mark 2

 h) The playing out of liberal unionism from 1998-2012 and the mainstreaming of reactionary unionism in ‘Brexit Britain’ since 2016

 i) Irish reunification under the Crown, Commonwealth and NATO?

j) The 2014 Scottish highpoint in the challenge to the UK state

 k) The case for an All-Islands Republican Internationalist Coalition – AIRIC



a) From the communities of resistance under Stormont mark 1 to the GFA under Stormont mark 2

John McAnulty has witnessed and participated in the struggles throughout the period of the Civil Rights Movement and the wider Republican Movement through to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and its successors.  Within those earlier struggles, a Socialist pole of attraction was created.  It included Peoples Democracy (PD) and after PD’s demise, Socialist Democracy (Ireland) – SD(I).  SD(I) was formed soon after the Republican highpoint of the struggle around the Hunger Strikes from 1980-2.  John has been a member of both PD and SD(I).

But John, now looking back over all those years, argues that what he sees as its endpoint, “the Good Friday Agreement was a stunning defeat for revolutionary nationalists {Republicans} and socialists.”[1]  This view seems to reflect John’s experience first of the marginalisation of the Socialist pole within the wider Republican struggle.  This came about due to the Provisionals’ ability to “{take} over a spontaneous movement supporting the prisoners”[2] who had gone on hunger strike.  However, this “spontaneous movement” had its own deeper roots, which coalesced around the communities of resistance, highlighted by the women’s dustbin-lid protests.  John and another PD member, Fergus O’Hare (later head of the first Irish Gaelic medium secondary school in Belfast and Northern Ireland), both very much part of these communities of resistance, were elected to Belfast City Council in 1981, when the Provisionals were still abstaining from electoral politics.

During the Hunger Strikes, John already pinpoints the future role of the Provisional “Republican leadership … running a diplomatic track through the Catholic Church and Dublin government”.[3]  This eventually contributed to the demise of the specifically Republican struggle, or what John terms “defeat”.  Later there were behind-the-scenes talks between Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein and John Hume of the Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP).  These were held at Clonard Redemptorist monastery in West Belfast. However, the Provisional leadership’s moves to finding an accommodation, which still left the UK state in overall control of Northern Ireland, only became apparent to others later.  This awareness occurred following the Provisional leadership’s tentative (in public) backing of the Downing Street Declaration in 1993, whilst the Tories were still in office; before their wholehearted backing for the GFA in 1998, after New Labour was elected.


 b) Ireland in and beyond the 1967-1975 International Revolutionary Wave

John attributes the Provisional leadership’s eventual abandonment of a declared Republican perspective and their acceptance of a subordinate role within the UK state’s Stormont Mark 2, to the legacy they inherited from traditional Republicanism, “a revolutionary nationalism… veering between workers and capitalists”…. which “{left} it open to division and unable to counter… capitalist counter-offensive”.[4]  But these two outcomes cannot be attributed solely to the “class nature and politics”[5] of the Republicans.  These have shifted over time, due to changing circumstances, under pressure from below as well from above.  The balance of political and class forces and the wider political context needs to be considered.

So too does the fact that the Hunger Strikes, which John recognises as the highpoint of the struggle, took place well after the 1968-75 International Revolutionary Wave had ebbed.  This demonstrates the remarkable continuing international resonance of the communities of resistance.  This resistance had grown throughout Northern Ireland from 1969 and continued to challenge both Loyalist pogroms and killings and UK state repression.  But the ebbing of this wave contributed to the increasingly difficult wider political conditions under which both Socialists and Republicans operated.

Back in the early 1970s, Republican activists (both the Officials and soon the Provisionals too) very much identified with the anti-imperialist struggles, whether in Vietnam, Cuba, Palestine or elsewhere.  Combined with the internationally acknowledged impact of the communities of resistance, Republican anti-imperialism took on the characteristic of being the main component of that 1968-75 International Revolutionary Wave in Ireland.  And this movement maintained the capacity for concerted independent struggle on a broad scale up to the end of the Hunger Strikes.  Socialists, including those in PD and later SD(I), contested the Republicans for the leadership of this wider anti-imperial struggle.

However, John, whilst providing a critique of the political limitations of the Provisional leadership, does not provide an adequate explanation for the inability of Socialists, including SD(I), to take the lead.  Socialists were marginalised by subsequent events, despite the continued committed activity of many of their activists, John included.  But were there also features of SD(I) politics, as well as the external impact of events, which had some bearing on these setbacks?

And in raising this question, the point is not to pin the blame on the SD(I).  The struggle was fought throughout these islands.  John highlights political failings in the South,[6]  but the British Left was far more culpable.  I and plenty of others were part of that British Left at the time, and very much wanted to provide effective support.  But we were still hampered by our inability to fully understand the nature of the UK state.  John does not address the political implications of this for the struggle for Irish self-determination, and how it contributed to the wider Left’s marginalisation.


 c) The British Left and its understanding of the anti-democratic, unionist nature of the UK state

John would have argued for PD to become a section of the Fourth International (FI) as SD(I), to provide an international basis for continued resistance.  The FI had played an important role in the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign.[7]  Membership of the FI provided the SD(I) with links to a section of the British Left.  And Vietnam did provide an imperial template through which Ireland’s relationship with the UK and British Empire was interpreted by the British Left.

But one major difference between the Vietnam Anti-War Movement in the USA and the Irish Anti-War Campaign in Great Britain was the major contribution made by Black Americans, including conscripted troops, in the USA.  This ensured that resistance was linked to a questioning of the very nature of the US state.  This resistance forced the US state to concede major civil rights, which were extended to the Jim Crow South; whereas the UK government’s own belated attempts at top-down reform in Northern Ireland were largely tokenistic.  The new civil rights legislation opened up politics in the USA, North and South, to Black participation.  The abolition of Stormont in 1974 led to direct UK state rule enforced by the British armed and security forces.

The numbers involved in the Irish Anti-War Campaign in Great Britain were relatively small; whilst the number of openly dissident soldiers in the British army, occupying Northern Ireland, could be counted on the fingers of one hand.  A greater questioning of the nature of the UK state hardly occurred amongst those on the British Left attempting to build solidarity with the Irish struggle.  We remained trapped within a Left British unionist way of thinking.

The British Left still largely accepts the existing unreformed UK (or Great Britain when they deign to think about the constitutionally semi-detached Northern Ireland) as a suitable vehicle for their Left social democratic, economic and social reforms.  This was revealed in Jeremy Corbyn’s two Westminster election manifestoes for 2017 and 2019.  They both offered strong defences of the existing Union, whilst the 2019 manifesto also looked no further than the re-establishment of the Northern Ireland Executive (NIE)and Stormont [8]  Indeed, in relation to the immediate constitutional issues facing Scotland and Northern Ireland, there was little to distinguish Jeremy Corbyn from Boris Johnson.  These manifestoes were also championed by most of the British Left whether operating as internal or external factions of the Labour Party.

But much British Left thinking has also been influenced by the history of another unionist stare – the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. (USSR).  In the nineteenth century, many Radicals, then the Liberal Party, followed later by Lib-Labs, early British Social Democrats (SDF/BSP), ILP and the Labour Party, liked to claim that the United Kingdom and Westminster (“the mother of parliaments”), and for some the British Empire, provided a political ‘beacon of progress’ in the world.  But during the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave, that ‘baton’ was handed over by many British Socialists, first to the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) in 1917, and then to a new unionist state, the USSR in 1922.  But by that date, the revolutionary wave had ebbed, and the USSR had become a one-party, union state with growing police powers.

The USSR was unilaterally declared by the All-Russian Communist Party (bolshevik) – A-RCP(b).  And it wasn’t until 1925, that the A-RCP(b) leadership decided, somewhat as an afterthought, that their party should be renamed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).  But this did not affect the Russian-dominated nature of either the party or the union state.  The RSFSR, which formed the inner core of the USSR, was buttressed by the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR.  These were seen to be ‘nations.’  The non-national Transcaucasian SFSR (TSFSR) was added with no mandate from the nations or peoples living there.   The TSFSR was later also bureaucratically split up into 3 ‘nation’ republics, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia in 1936.  This was at the same time as a number of autonomous republics in Central Asia, up till then still part of the RSFSR, were also bureaucratically made into 5 ‘nation’ republics within the USSR – Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tajikistan, Turkmenia and Uzbekhistan SSRs. The USSR union state reached its maximum extent immediately after the Second World War, when it became based on 15 ‘nation’ republics, with the territorial expansion of the Russian SFSR and the Byelorussian and Ukrainian  SSRs, and the addition of the Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Moldovan SSRs. None of these additions were acts of national self-determination, but all the result of military conquest.

At the same time, Josef Stalin ensured that, as well the USSR, both the Ukrainian and Byelorussian SSRs were given seats at the new United Nations.  This complemented Stalin’s own version of pan-Slavism, which he was trying to use to extend the USSR’s influence in Eastern Europe.  This pan-Slavism, sometimes in the form of ‘Great Russian’ chauvinism, was promoted more strongly at some times than others.  Although unionism was a specific feature of the USSR,  Russian supremacy has been a continuous feature of the Tsarist Empire, the USSR (particularly under Stalin) and Vladimir Putin’s Russian Federation. Putin has abandoned this unionism and reverted to the old tsarist and orthodox, ‘Russia one and indivisible’. One of the organisations responsible for such thinking, Pamyat, although illegal under the old USSR, seems to have enjoyed behind-the-scenes support from the KGB.[9]  Putin worked at the time for the KGB.

The territorial extent of the USSR state in some ways resembled the UK plus its British Empire, but with its imperially dominated territories lying within the state’s boundaries.  This came about due to the different natures of their imperial expansion – the UK by overseas annexations, the Tsarist Empire, by landward annexations.  However, pre-First World War, British imperial federalists also wanted the UK to incorporate the white colonies. They would have direct political representation at Westminster, whilst the non-white territories would have no such direct representation, and still be subject to colonial governors, or imposed treaties (the latter also existed in Tsarist Russian Central Asia).  But the British imperial federalists did not succeed in their aims.  Instead, the British ruling class has settled, at different times, on a UK state of three nations – 1801-1921  (England, Scotland and Ireland), two and bit nations –  1921-1998 (England, Scotland and Northern Ireland), and then after 1998 four, in reality three and a bit, nations  (England, Scotland, Wales, which had only been partially recognised as a a nation, up to this time,  and Northern Ireland).  For the upholders of such a Union, these constitute  a shared English speaking, or for some a ‘Greater English’ state (the Welsh language has official  status in Wales, the Gaelic language in Scotland, but not in Northern Ireland – but their statuses are not guaranteed, but dependent ultimately on Westminster ). The white dominions, followed by most of the other former imperial territories, have gained political independence.  This has left a few overseas Crown dependencies, the key ones being tax havens – the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Bermuda. These serve the interests of the City of London.  This is analogous to the way landlocked Kaliningrad serves the interests of the  Russian Federation’s armed forces and its oligarchs.

In both the UK and USSR administrative and political devolution have provided opportunities for subordinate cultural nationalisms and for niche markets (e.g. for admirers of ‘folk art’ or for tourists).  So, support for these two union states has been found amongst some of the cultural practitioners in these subordinate nations or nationalities.  However, the jobs provided in the administratively and politically devolved institutions of these states, have provided the most lucrative and privileged careers.  This is why some of the most ardent unionists have come from the subordinate nations, e.g. David Lloyd-George, originally a Welsh speaker from north Wales, Ramsay MacDonald from Scotland, Josef Stalin from Georgia and Nikita Khrushchev from Ukraine.  Pro-unionist attitudes have also become deeply embedded amongst the officials of the political parties and trade unions whose organisational structures mirror these states, and whose careers depend on their continued existence.  It is also revealing that as the British and Soviet empires went into decline, their leaders resorted to the same language to try and retain as much control as possible – the British Commonwealth and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

And in the UK, an engrained Left unionism has very much penetrated the non-Labour British Left.  They have equated the  defence of the unity of the British working class with maintaining the unity of the UK state, or at least in Great Britain.  And these British Socialists take sustenance from the history of the CPSU (although often divided over which period to draw their examples from), or even from the Chinese Communist Party, to argue for the maintenance of the Great Britain’s state territory.  One beneficial effect of the 1916-23 struggle for Irish self-determination, though, has been that that most British Socialists no longer claim Ireland as part of the UK and can also envisage a UK minus Northern Ireland.  Although there are still few who would like to extend the British Labour Party to Northern Ireland, since they still believe that UK state with its ‘class politics’ is in a higher political plane than the ‘tribalism’ they see in Northern Ireland.

But many of those British Socialists who have abandoned any claim to Ireland or Northern Ireland have, in effect, relegated these to detached or a semi-detached status, reflecting their constitutional positions since 1921. The British ruling class has always treated Ireland/Northern Ireland far more seriously, seeing the Irish Free State, which it helped to create, as key to maintaining the British Empire and Northern Ireland as key to maintaining the Union.  Today, the British ruling class is still not prepared to let Northern Ireland go.  This would confirm the UK as the third-rate power it is.  Putin wants to reassert Russian power over Ukraine, to restore as much of the Russian Empire as possible.  Northern Ireland represents Britain’s Lukansk and Donetsk enclaves within Ireland.

The USSR was based on the sovereignty of the one-party (CPSU), All Union Government of the Soviet Union, with its draconian police powers.  Unlike the UK, the USSR’s 1936 constitution did concede the right of self-determination to its constituent nations.  But the only mechanism for raising this in the one-party state was the CPSU.  Raising such an issue in the CPSU was seen as bourgeois nationalism or treason, punishable by prison, internal or external exile and execution.  And many of the constituent ‘nations’, either as full SSRs or autonomous SSRs, were bureaucratically created from above or terminated.

The UK state is based on the anti-democratic sovereignty of the Crown-in-Westminster, buttressed by its draconian Crown Powers.  This is very much linked to the UK’s specifically unionist form, which has covered England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland since 1921.  Sections of the British ruling class – British (often ‘Greater English’), Welsh-British, Scottish-British and ‘Ulster’-British – use various features of this unionist state, including the House of Commons and the House of Lords, to jointly protect their class interests domestically, within what is left of the British Empire and elsewhere in the world.  But these hybrid-British sections of the ruling class also have their own class-based national self-determination in the administratively and politically devolved institutions of the UK state.  T And just in case the politically devolved institutions become too uppity, they can be ignored or even closed down by Westminster. here is no wider democratic right to national self-determination.

In relation to Scotland, before the 1996 Westminster general election, Tony Blair gave the game away about its relationship to the UK under the Union.  He said that “the Scottish Parliament would have no more power about this unionist relationship than a parish council.”[10]  The key thing is that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain subordinate to Westminster.  At times, liberal unionists amongst the Lib-Dems (following a long Liberal tradition) and in the British Labour Party (particularly Gordon Brown] have dangled the prospect of ‘federalism’.  But this remains a constitutional impossibility under the sovereignty of Crown-in Westminster.  Any subordinate assembly can constitutionally have its powers rolled back. Ever since Brexit we have seen this happening with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd. Or subordinate assemblies can be abolished altogether as happened with Stormont mark1 (not a sad loss, but its replacement by British direct rule through its military and security forces was no gain either).

For the 50 years, from 1922-72, the old Orange ‘Ulster’/Northern Ireland statelet achieved an authoritarian stability after Partition.  Pogroms had to be resorted to in 1936 in order to re-establish Orange supremacy following the Belfast Outdoor Relief Protests in 1932.  But nobody, either at Stormont or in the UK, thought that this regime should be ended or even reformed.  However, since the setting up of the GFA in 1998, Stormont and the NIE have been suspended from 2002-7, from 2017-20, whilst the NIE is suspended again today, with the walkout of its Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members.[11]

Thus the British ruling class and its UK state have faced continued instability in Northern Ireland over the 24 year period since the GFA was first introduced.  We are now living in the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crash, which ended neo-Liberal hegemony, and unleashed the Hard Right (and Far Right).  In the UK, this has led to Johnson’s authoritarian populist and reactionary unionist government.  We are also witnessing increased inter-imperialist competition and wars. So far, these have been fought by proxy forces.  But Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, these wars threaten to become direct conflicts between imperial powers.  So ‘Brexit Britain’ does not provide a context, in which the post-GFA order in Ireland can easily be sustained.


d) Changing contexts, changing politics

Another thing missing, both from John’s account of the decline of Irish Socialism, and of the demise of the Provisionals (to be replaced by ‘New’ Sinn Fein) is an assessment of the impact of the wider international political context, especially the forward surge, then the ebbing away of the 1968-75 International Revolutionary Wave.  Ironically, when the Provisional IRA split from the Official IRA, it was the Official wing which claimed to have a political strategy for obtaining a 32 county Irish Republic.  This was to win civil rights within the existing Stormont, and to promote better access to housing and jobs for Nationalists, with the backing of the leadership of Northern Irish Committee of the Irish Trade Union Congress.  It was argued that once Unionist and Loyalist workers were persuaded to accept a reformed Stormont, they would be ready to join the Republic of Ireland.

The Black Civil Rights Movement (CRM) in the USA provided much of the inspiration for the most radical wing of the CRM in Northern Ireland, including PD.  Whilst the CRM’s more moderate leaders appealed for the civil rights enjoyed elsewhere in the UK to placate the Unionists and Loyalists.  The Provisional IRA, though, originally emerged from a long-standing Defender tradition.  Following Nationalists/Catholics’ long historical experience, this tradition had developed a much more sceptical attitude towards the possibilities of reforming the existing Orange Stormont order.  Those from the Defender tradition fought for the immediate protection of Nationalist communities against the brutal actions of forces from both the official and unofficial wings of the Orange statelet.  These Loyalists opposed any meaningful reform.  The Defender tradition, like Loyalism, has seen the struggle for jobs and housing under the existing system as a zero-sum game – either Loyalists or Nationalists win; or Loyalists or Nationalists lose.  The difference was that those from the Defender tradition were in the position of the oppressed.

Many early Provisional IRA leaders, who emerged from this Defender tradition, were Catholic traditionalists in their political thinking and social values.  When they turned to Republicanism, this was often in celebration of the role of heroic military leaders, or as John puts it “their mechanism for victory… was the individual members of the nation exerting maximum force.”[12]  They were suspicious of politics, and the only role they saw for political organisations was to act as cheerleaders for the armed struggle.  This remains true of the military wing of the Dissident Republicans today. So, this rules out any commitment to building the  autonomous democratic political organisations needed to assert the original wider Republican principle of the sovereignty of the people.

However, unlike the IRA’s 1956-62 Border Campaign, led by similarly conservative thinking leaders, the Provisionals’ post-1969 campaign took place in the context of the widely supported communities of resistance.  These grew out of, and developed beyond the CRM, following the defeat of its leadership’s strategy.  And as John states, “rather than leading to a lull, the violence intensified as {Republicans} retained mass support.”[13]  It was this new mass movement, linked to the initial impact if the 1967-75 International Revolutionary Wave, which transformed the politics of the Provisionals, and also contributed to the creation of PD and SD(I)

Although Catholic conservatism remained a feature of some leading figures involved in Republican politics (and such thinking is still to be found in sections of post-GFA ‘New’ Sinn Fein, particularly its Aontu breakaway and amongst the Dissident Republicans), many in the post-1972 CRM Republican Movement took on more advanced economic and social thinking.  They also began to look to wider anti-imperial struggles and beyond the traditional Right wing Irish émigré community in the USA.  Socialists could engage in more meaningful debates with other anti-imperialists than with those Irish Catholic traditionalists who often fully supported the state suppression of Socialists, women’s rights and other ethnic minority rights.  The Republican Socialist, Bernadette McAliskey had to face  Irish-American, anti-Black racism when she toured the USA.[14]   As a result of the interactions between Republicans and Socialists there was a movement from Republicanism to Socialist Republicanism; but as the autonomous communities ebbed, there was also movement in the other direction.


e) Defeat or setback to an unfinished revolution?

Following the three decades of Civil Rights and Republican struggle, John offers his own view of the situation in Northern Ireland in 1998 and the “scale of the defeat.”[15]  But the 1923 “defeat”, with its creation of the Irish Free State, was not like that which John identifies in the North immediately after Partition was brutally enforced from 1920, which led to 50 years of Orange rule.  If, in Northern Ireland today, there has been “betrayal {of the struggle due to} suppressed class differences”,[16] this has led to a situation more like that which arose from the 1921 Treaty in the South.  Back then, despite the Irish Republicans’ military defeat in the Civil War, neither the British government nor the Southern Unionists believed the old order had been restored.

In the new post-1921 Northern Ireland, it is also true that the pre-1914 Unionist order hadn’t been restored.  But if anything, such was the scale of defeat there, that the new Orange Partitionist order in the ‘North’ more resembled pre-1801 Ireland.  It seemed as if the old Ascendancy of the Anglo-Irish, now augmented by the Scotch-Irish, joined together in the Orange Order, had been restored.  Or as John argues, “Before partition the North was an area where sectarianism happened and was used by employers to divide the workforce.  But the same was true, on a smaller scale in many British cities {e.g. Liverpool and throughout Scotland’s Central Belt}.  After partition {Northern Ireland} became a sectarian state, defined by repression of nationalists and orange triumphalism.”[17]

But, in the Irish Free State, even after Partition, the Republicans continued to be a political force.  This was shown by the increase in Sinn Fein’s vote in the 1923 Dail election, even after their military defeat.  Nobody living in the Irish Free State, except the most wistful Southern Unionist, would have suggested that the pre-1914, pre-1916, pre-1918 or the pre-1921 Union would be a better starting point than the highly flawed Irish Free State.  This despite the “poor {fleeing} for work {often to Britain},[18] and the rebels and intellectuals {fleeing} the stranglehold of the church.”[19]  And John does recognise that the nature and degree of reaction was different North and South. “Despite the counter-revolution, the end of British occupation was the cornerstone of society and a step towards democracy”.[20]

In relation to the outcome of the most recent Irish Republican struggle, such a “a step towards democracy” could yet form the launching pad for a future democratic revival, or the ‘unfinished revolution’ as Robbie McVeigh and Bill Rolston persuasively term it.[21]  Tommy McKearney has also provided an understanding of the difference between defeat and unfulfilled hopes.  Tommy was a one-time active member of the IRA, imprisoned in Long Kesh (sentenced for 20 years, served 16), hunger striker for 53 days in 1980, who became a member League of Communist Republicans whilst in prison.[22]  Despite Tommy’s and his family’s tremendous personal sacrifices, and whatever his own disappointments at the outcome of that Republican struggle, he does not think it was an unqualified defeat.

In Tommy’s book, The Provisional IRA – From Insurrection to Parliament, he writes that the war “broke the foundations of Orange state sectarianism – anti-Catholic discrimination in housing, welfare, the economy and politics.  This was a transformative war.”[23]  Thus Catholics from whatever class are no longer as marginalised as they were under the old Orange Stormont regime.  Back in the 1960s, you couldn’t fly an Irish tricolour, without it and its bearer being seized by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).  Nowadays, there are tricolours, Gaelic street names and Republican murals all over West Belfast; Belfast has had a Sinn Fein mayor, whilst Derry & Strabane, Fermanagh & Omagh, Mid Ulster and Newry, Mourne & Down local councils have passed to Sinn Fein/SDLP control.  This was inconceivable under the old Orange Stormont order.  Tommy is not in denial about the nature of Stormont mark 2.  “Something that has not changed, though, is the sectarian division of the Northern Irish working class… The Orange state may have been brought to an end, but in its place is a {new} sectarian entity.”[24]

However, today, the impact upon the working class of falling real wages, worsening conditions of employment, and cuts in public services in the Nationalist/Republican communities, is not the product of deliberate Stormont policy.  These attacks flow from post-2008 Crash Austerity policies, relayed from the UK state and Westminster to its devolved Northern Irish administration and Northern Ireland Executive (NIE) (when it is running).  These attacks impinge upon the Unionist/Loyalist working class too.  Any attempts by Unionists/Loyalists to divert their impact onto Nationalist/Republicans are much less effective under the new bi-sectarian, post-GFA Stormont.  This fronts a Northern Irish administration in which the UK government is able to exercise behind-the-scenes control.  This is done for wider British unionist and imperial interests; not to implement Loyalist demands, which can work against these.  Thus, as Tommy writes, “If ever the Marxist dialectic of one contradiction giving way to a fresh contradiction was evident in any situation, it is surely visible in the Good Friday Agreement.” [25]

And Tommy makes quite clear today’s relationship between Stormont, which could largely do what it wanted under the pre-1973 Orange regime, and Westminster. “The Northern Ireland assembly has about the same relationship with the House of Commons in London as the management in Tesco in Belfast has with the head office in the UK”[26]  And Johnson’s wooing of the DUP in 2019, to help him become UK prime minister, followed by quickly dropping them when he had achieved his aim, underscores the DUP’s peripheral role in this relationship.


f) The DUP – from ‘No Surrender’ Loyalism to a new accommodation with the UK state

Ian Paisley’s DUP had provided a ‘master class’ in how to prioritise the aims of the Loyalist base and to subordinate the DUP’s electoral activities to these.  This was shown in the DUP involvement with Northern Ireland local councils, the 1973 Assembly, the 1975 Constitutional Assembly, the 1982 Assembly, the 1996 Forum, the Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont mark 2), Westminster and the European parliament.  To maintain Paisley’s ability to organise autonomous and extra-constitutional action, he had his own Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster; he founded and long dominated the DUP; he had close links with the Independent Orange Order; and he helped to found two paramilitary organisations, the Ulster Third Force and the Ulster Resistance Movement.

But just as revealingly, when Paisley finally decided to remove himself from the front line of ‘No Surrender’ Loyalism in 2006, to work within the post-GFA St. Andrews Agreement set-up, this immediately created the political space for DUP insider cronyism and corruption.  The post-GFA order had been designed to subordinate Ireland, North and South, to the needs of corporate profitability, offering special opportunities for political insiders.  This was soon made evident by the corrupt activities of Ian Paisley Junior, and Iris Robinson, wife of new DUP leader Peter Robinson; and in the Cash for Ash scandal, presided over by the next DUP leader, Arlene Foster.  Paisley Senior’s top-down control, even if long used to advance the interests of his Loyalist base, provided no opportunity for Loyalist members to develop an alternative to his new DUP turn.

Certainly, Paisley’s retreat from the front line of ‘No Surrender’ Unionism/Loyalism, created dissent in DUP ranks.  This contributed to the formation of Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) and renewed Loyalist paramilitary violence.  Successive DUP leaders have tried to accommodate this and have so far been successful in maintaining the DUP as the majority Unionist/Loyalist party.  But with so many MPs, MLAs and local councillors having ‘their noses in the trough’ of the post-GFA order, which is financially underwritten by the UK state, there are limitations to how far the DUP can go.

John outlines the DUP’s most recent attempts over the Northern Ireland Protocol “to recover support through the traditional mechanism of unionist unity and sectarian mobilisation with the threat of violence. {But these} have attracted little interest.”[27]  And this is likely to be the case unless such activities gain open backing from the UK government.

But the British ruling class is unable to impose (or even think of) a commonly agreed ‘solution’, in the face of mounting problems, not only in Northern Ireland, but in Scotland and Wales too.  Their continued attempts to roll back the limited democracy we have, shows they no longer believe they can rule by consent. This means there is the political space for alternatives, rooted in the immediate conditions we face today.  This includes the possibility of restarting  that ‘unfinished revolution’.


g) Post-GFA Ireland – Sinn Fein helps to police Stormont mark 2.

Following a decades long-struggle in Northern Ireland (and to a much more limited extent in the Republic of Ireland), the UK’s post-1998, administratively devolved, Northern Irish state machine and its politically devolved, NIE and Stormont, were designed to provide a political, economic, social and cultural space for Irish Nationalists, whilst keeping the Ulster Unionists on board.  This had been denied to Irish Nationalists under Stormont mark 1.  In an uncanny update of Michael Collin’s claim that the UK-dictated 1921 Treaty provided “the freedom to achieve freedom”[28] (i.e. an Irish Republic); in 1998 the ‘New’ Sinn Fein leadership claimed that the GFA and its successors provide the mechanism to build support for the reunification of Ireland.

Although, as John makes clear, such reunification, even if it were possible, would very likely not lead to a new Republic.  ‘New’ Sinn Fein and many of those who tail-end them politically view “the task of achieving Irish unity…  defined as the conciliation of unionist culture rather than the defeat of an imperialist power.”[29]  As the first part of this review showed, there are already forces on the Right of Irish nationalism who foresee Irish reunification under the Crown and Commonwealth.

Back in the days of the CRM, which the Official Sinn Fein and IRA had helped to set-up, they campaigned for civil rights within a democratised and de-sectarianised Stormont mark 1.  The British drowned this prospect in blood in Ballymurphy in 1971 and Derry in 1972.  IRA attempts to target British forces in Northern Ireland from ‘the mainland’, in order to emphasise the anti-imperialist nature of the struggle, were undermined by the UK government policy of ‘Ulsterisation’.[30]  This placed local Northern Irish forces, overwhelmingly recruited from sectarian Loyalists, in the frontline; supplemented by British behind-the-scenes collusion with the Loyalist death squads.

The greater use of smaller elite British military forces, e.g. the SAS, and security force penetration of the Republicans also had a big impact on the IRA’s armed struggle.  But these British actions failed to win over many Nationalists, who showed their opposition to both targeted and arbitrary repression by increasing their electoral support for Sinn Fein.  This continued opposition forced the UK state to come up with the Downing Street Declaration in 1993 to incorporate, what would become in practice, former Republicans into the running of a reformed Stormont.

By this time, ‘New’ Sinn Fein argued that things had changed enough, as a result of the Republican struggle (and others tend to be airbrushed out of ‘New’ Sinn Fein history), for Stormont mark 2 to provide a new road to Irish reunification.  This is meant to be achieved through the post-GFA’s constitutionally bi-sectarian Northern Ireland statelet.  But its parameters, like those of the 1921 Treaty agreement, are determined by the UK state.  As John points out, the GFA is “an amendment to the {1920} Government of Ireland Act that asserted British sovereignty.”[31]

The British army is no longer visible on the streets of Northern Ireland; but the reformed Royal Ulster Constabulary, now known as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), is. The PSNI recruits from both communities.  This also occurred with the old Royal Irish Constabulary when the whole of Ireland was still within the UK.  However, the PSNI is still under senior commanders who have first served in Great Britain.  And much less visible, but no doubt just as central for the UK state, MI5 operates out of Palace Barracks, Holyrood, County Down.  Its senior officers are also going to be from Great Britain.  In a clear indication of who is still in charge, the UK state retains the official monopoly of force – the Brits ‘they haven’t gone away you know!’

If ‘New’ Sinn Fein has accepted the delegitimisation of the IRA, then the government of the Republic of Ireland has abandoned its constitutional claim to Northern Ireland.  These concessions leave the UK in overall control.  The UK state is now quite happy to accept military recruits from the South, attracted by an alternative to the post-2008 economic hardships in the Republic of Ireland.  Anywhere else these recruits would be considered mercenaries.  But despite Brexit, the citizens of the Republic of Ireland are free to become the subjects of the UK.

And when ‘New’ Sinn Fein made its deal with Paisley and the DUP, under the St. Andrew’s Agreement, they also subordinated their politics to the structural purpose of the GFA.  The Provisionals had already paved the way for their incorporation through their earlier marginalisation of the autonomous communities of resistance.  Today, as John points out, “At the council level there is a quiet and business-like sharing out of funds {by Sinn Fein and the DUP} and moves to exclude the smaller parties from decision making, alongside economic policy which sees public resource transfers to private hands.”[32]

Sinn Fein is particularly assiduous in policing any possibility of the communities of resistance re-emerging.  Disputes have arisen over the running of Culturlann language and arts centre on the Falls Road and the Gaelic Athletic Association’s social club at Casement Parkin Anderstonstown, both in West Belfast.  Opposition to Sinn Fein was shown on the 5000 strong Irish language rights protest organised by An La Dearg in Belfast.[33]  Such is the level of alienation amongst many in the former communities of resistance, now policed by Sinn Fein officials, that an emphasis on cultural self-determination[34] remains part of the wider political struggle. Such resistance forms the seeds of the renewed communities of resistance vital to the unfinished revolution.


h) The playing out of liberal unionism from 1998-2012 and the mainstreaming of reactionary unionism in ‘Brexit Britain’      since 2016

Most of the Irish and British Left tend to see a specifically Ulster Unionism and Loyalism as the main immediate political obstacles to change in Northern Ireland/Ireland and to Irish reunification.  As has already been shown, they do not look at the wider unionist nature of the UK state.  The real backers for the maintenance of the UK as a unionist state are the British ruling class.  And they can give their backing to a variety of unionist parties throughout the UK – conservative, liberal or reactionary – depending on political circumstances.  And when their backs are against the wall, they will fall back on constitutional nationalists too to help them out.

Back during the period of Irish Republican struggle from the early 1970s, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, which had emerged as the leading parties within the growing movements for Scottish and Welsh self-determination, also wanted to highlight the difference from Northern Ireland.  They emphasised their own entirely constitutional methods.  But violence was reintroduced to Northern Irish politics when “in 1966… the Ulster Volunteer Force killed a Protestant pensioner and two Catholic civilians {and} in 1969 they carried out a false flag operation by bombing the Silent Water reservoir”[35] in County Down.  And when it came to the Loyalist pogroms in West Belfast in 1969, B-Specials, part of the official Orange statelet’s forces, took part out of uniform.  It was the violent way the Orange statelet and its Loyalist backers conducted themselves that led to the growth of extra-constitutional, including armed, forms of struggle in Northern Ireland.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement has been characterised by Seamus Mallon of the SDLP as just the 1973/4 “Sunningdale Agreement for slow learners.”[36]  But back then the Ulster Unionists were not prepared to concede those reforms.  They actively encouraged Loyalist violence to prevent them being implemented.  It took nearly 30 years of armed struggle before the Ulster Unionists reluctantly conceded the GFA reforms in 1998.  And the shift in the Nationalist vote from the SDLP to Sinn Fein showed that many Nationalists understood this.

In Northern Ireland, right from the GFA’s launch, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the DUP, used its constitutionally underwritten, bi-sectarian nature to strip away as much of the liberal coating as possible.  The DUP, with growing electoral and continuing extra-parliamentary support from other Loyalists, still led a ‘No Surrender’ opposition.  In 1998, this led to the killing of three children following their Drumcree protests.[37]  This and other violent activities formed part of organised Loyalist provocations.  The DUP only reluctantly accepted the watered-down St. Andrews Agreement as late as 2006.  In the process, the post-GFA deals have diluted even the limited powers of the original GFA.

In contrast, before 2012, UK state-backed liberal unionism had allowed some extension of powers to both Holyrood and Cardiff Bay.  The Welsh Assembly was upgraded to the Welsh Senedd (parliament), following a referendum in 2011.  This was held under Cameron’s Con-Dem coalition, and was backed by the Welsh Tories, Labour, Lib-Dems and Plaid Cymru.

And in 2012, Cameron’s Con-Dem government, in league with Labour, also conceded a Scottish independence referendum (IndyRef).  The only reason they did this were opinion polls indicating that support for Scottish independence lay between 28-33%.  But the referendum offered no liberal unionist, ‘Devo-Plus’ option, so that the SNP couldn’t claim any second prize.  The intention was to drive the SNP from its control of Holyrood, which it had won, against expectations, in the 2011 election.  And at this point, the SNP only had 6 MPs, compared to Labour’s 41 and the Lib-Dems 11 (the Tories only had 1).  It was only in the local council elections that the SNP emerged with the largest number of councillors in 2012, but still with no more than 32.3% of the total vote.

The refusal to offer a liberal unionist option in the IndyRef  highlighted the Conservatives’, Labour’s and Lib-Dem’s move to the Right.  They now shared a conservative unionist politics, shown in their ‘Better Together’ alliance, which was self-termed ‘Project Fear’.  But Cameron still wanted to provide this campaign with a liberal unionist gloss.  This was provided by Labour’s Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, the Lib-Dems being more peripheral.  So, when the reactionary unionist Loyalists, many from Northern Ireland, organised a 20,000 rally in Edinburgh on the weekend before the Scottish independence referendum, ‘Better Together’ kept them at arm’s length.

And when, in the last two weeks of the campaign, an opinion poll showed that the ‘Yes’ vote might win, Brown was wheeled out with his ‘federal’ promise.  Not being in government, he was in no position to do anything about this.  But more fundamentally, federalism is a constitutional impossibility under Westminster supremacy.  By now liberal unionism had become no more than ‘Project Con’ and has remained so (with the partial exception of Wales).

The 2014 InfyRef result was much closer than anticipated in 2012.  The pyrrhic ‘No’ victory was followed up by a rampage in Glasgow (which had voted to secede from the Union) of Loyalists and other British neo-fascists’ on September 19th, 2014.  Now both Tories and sections of the Labour Party (particularly in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire), shocked at the mainstreaming of the issue of Scottish independence (further reinforced by the SNP’s landslide vote in the 2015 general election), made overtures to the Orange Order.  When the Scottish local council election results were announced in 2017, the Orange Order claimed to have 6 councillors, 5 Labour and 1 Tory.[38]

But as far back as 2012, the Loyalist base in Northern Ireland had relaunched its own reactionary unionist offensive, this time around the Belfast City Hall Flag protests.  Taking advantage of the retreats from the original GFA proposals, their aim was to undermine the ‘parity of esteem’, recognised in the constitutional bi-sectarian Unionist/Loyalist and Nationalist/Republican provisions, and to restore as much of the old Stormont order as possible.  Stormont often turns a blind eye to this, offering Loyalist organisations more funding to encourage ‘good behaviour’.  And Westminster also takes advantage of the semi-detached nature of Northern Ireland to ignore or play down any Loyalist marches, physical attacks, riots and their regular bonfire ‘hatefests’. Loyalist pressure was soon reflected in the DUP’s behaviour.

But it was the 2016 Euro-referendum and the consequent attempts to impose a hard Brexit, which began to mainstream reactionary unionism at a UK level.  David Cameron’s conservative unionist, ‘Project Fear’ appeared to have worked, if somewhat clumsily, during the IndyRef campaign.  It was used again in his ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaign.  However, Cameron had already conceded to the Hard Right over the referendum franchise, which, unlike the 2014 Indy Ref, removed most non-UK, EU citizens and 16-18 year olds from the voting roll.

And ‘Project Fear’ was opposed not by any ‘Project Hope’, such as that which had developed in the wider Scottish ‘Yes’ movement (despite the conservative intentions of the SNP leadership).  ‘Project Fear’ was confronted by the Right populist and reactionary unionist ‘Project Hate’.  Douglas Carswell, UKIP MP, and Nigel Dodds, depute DUP leader and MP, were on the board of the official Vote Leave campaign; whilst Sammy Wilson, DUP hard-line bigot, signed up for the even more reactionary Leave.EU, led by Nigel Farage and Arron Banks.  And this was also given ‘Left’ cover by the arch-unionists, ex-Labour MP George Galloway and Labour MP, Kate Hoey.

The European referendum in 2016 marked the highpoint of the Right’s electoral support.  There was a 72.2% turnout and a 52.5% ‘Leave’ vote.  This was on a restricted franchise compared to the 2014 Scottish IndyRef.  Although the turnout was higher than in UK general elections, it was considerably lower than the 85% turnout following ‘Project Hope’ in 2014.  In the 2017 Westminster general election, where the issue of Brexit now dominated, the Hard Right also contributed to the increased turnout compared to 2015.  In England the turnout went up by 3.2% to 69.1%, in Wales by 3% to 68.1% and in Northern Ireland by 7.2% to 65.6%.

But turnout in Scotland fell by 4.7% in Scotland.  In 2015, the post-IndyRef effect of the mainstreaming of Scottish independence Scotland, had contributed to a turnout of 71.1% (up 7.3%) following the 85% turnout achieved in the 2014 IndyRef ‘democratic revolution’.  This had led to a result completely unprecedented in UK electoral history in any constituent unit of the state.  The SNP gained 56 out of Scotland’s 59 MPs in 2015.  But it was the drop in the turnout in 2017 in Scotland, which led to the loss of 21 SNP MPs.  But the SNP still held a majority of the Scottish MPs, something which Margaret Thatcher and Leon Brittan had once hinted, as a taunt to the SNP, to be the condition for gaining Scottish independence![39]

However, in 2017, although the Tories gained a 5.5% increase in their British vote, they still lost 33 MPs.  This was because the Hard and Far Right still challenged the Tories electorally. They provided an even harder Brexit alternative to May’s ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’. This somewhat limited the electoral drift back to the Tories.  The willingness of the Hard and Far Right to stand, even against Tory pro-Brexit candidates also provided a contrast to the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) (mainly the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party – SWP).  After standing candidates in the 2010 and 2015 Westminster general elections, TUSC declined to stand for their ‘Left’ Brexit in 2017. They opted to tail-end Corbyn’s Labour Party instead, despite its very ambiguous stance over Brexit.  Yet TUSC had told Socialists how much better the political terrain would be after a ‘Brexit’ victory! The Hard and Far Right had a better appreciation of the political impact of Brexit and acted accordingly.

In Northern Ireland, however, People before Profit (PbP) (an Irish  Socialist Workers Party/later Network front) did stand ‘Left’ Brexit candidates in 2017.  But their vote fell badly, despite doubling their number of candidates since 2015.  The political nature of Brexit support was highlighted when the reactionary unionist DUP and TUV gained over 98%, whilst PbP took less than 2% of the Brexit vote!  The other hard Brexiteers not directly contesting the elections were the Loyalists and the Dissident Republicans.

The Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party certainly contributed to and benefitted from the 2017 general election rise in turnout in England.  Labour’s vote went up 9.8% and they gained 20 new MPs, and in Wales Labour’s vote went up 12.1% and they gained 3 new MPs.  Labour also increased its vote by 2.8% in Scotland and gained 6 MPs, all at the expense of the SNP.  But the majority of Labour’s new Scottish MPs were not on the Left (and in the 2019 Westminster general election, Labour fell back to 1 MP in Scotland, very much on the Right of the party).  Sinn Fein also contributed to and benefitted from this rise in electoral turnout in Northern Ireland (up 4.9% in the vote and 3 new MPs).

However, whatever Labour’s and Sinn Fein’s contribution to the increased turnout and their improved electoral results in 2017, these made no impact on the continuing Rightward trajectory of UK politics in Brexit Britain.  The DUP entered into a government supporting arrangement with Theresa May’s Tories.  This was followed by the DUP’s backing for the Hard Right Tory, Boris ‘Get Brexit done’ Johnson.  Meanwhile, Ruth Davidson, recently the ‘liberal’ Remain leader of the Scottish Conservatives, metamorphosed into a Tory Hard Right Brexiteer, speaking alongside Bertie Armstrong, Orange bigot, racist and chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s {fishing boat owners} Federation.[40]

The 2019 Westminster general election gave Johnson’s authoritarian populist and reactionary unionist Tories a victory at the UK level.  Corbyn’s split Labour Party (still dominated by the Right), and his own vacillation before Right challenges (over party democracy, migrant rights and support for Palestinian self-determination) contributed to the 7.9% drop in the vote and the loss of 60 MPs (48 in England, 6 in Wales and  6 in Scotland).

However, this Tory Hard Right, reactionary unionist ‘triumph’ disguised the fact that their previous allies in Northern Ireland, the DUP lost 2 seats, leaving reactionary unionism without a majority there.  In Scotland, the constitutional nationalist SNP won 48 seats (a 14 seat gain), whilst the Tories lost 7 seats.  Apart from England, it was only in Wales that the Tories make an advance in the 2019 Westminster general election, winning 14 seats (a 6 seat gain), but liberal unionist, Welsh Labour still held an overall majority with 22 seats (a 6 seat loss), whilst the constitutional nationalist, Plaid Cymru remained the same at 4 seats.

Yet, despite the first-past-the-post electoral system, which benefitted the Tories, the Brexit Party was ahead of Plaid Cymru in 13 Welsh constituencies.  But UKIP’s biggest success in Wales had been in the 2014 EU-election, where it came a close second (to Labour) and gained 1 of Wales’ 4 MEPs.  And this was bettered by the Brexit Party in the 2019 EU election, where it came an easy first, gaining 2 MEPs.  Plaid Cymru was a distant second.

But the most recent of these two independent Hard Right parties, the Brexit Party (in effect Farage’s UKIP successor party), failed to build upon its 2019 electoral support.  It was partly dished by Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit done’ Tories, and partly by the continued national democratic challenges in Scotland and Wales.  This failure became more  evident in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd elections in 2021.  In the Scottish Parliament elections, the SNP won 61 seas (a 1 seat gain) and their soon-to-be Scottish governmental partners, the Scottish Greens won seats (a 2 seat gain).  In the Welsh Senedd elections, the Tories did win 16 seats (a 5 seat gain), but 4 of these were at expense of UKIP/Brexit Party.  Labour won 30 seats (a 1 seat gain).  Furthermore, Labour held all the equivalent Senedd constituencies they had lost to the Tories in the Westminster general election, with the exception of the Vale of Clwyd.  Labour now had enough MSs to form a Welsh Senedd government by themselves.  Plaid Cymru won 13 seats (a 1 seat gain) and easily held on to Yns Mon constituency, which the Tories had gained in the 2019 Westminster election.

UKIP had already split in 2016, following Farage’s departure.  He had gone on to form the Brexit Party in 2019.  UKIP had made no impact on the Scottish Parliament in 2016, nor in Scotland’s Westminster constituencies in 2017, whilst the Brexit Party made no impact in 2019.  UKIP, though, did gain a  Scottish MEP in 2014 and the Brexit Party gained one in 2019.  In Wales though, UKIP gained 7 MSs in the 2016 Welsh Senedd elections, and was ahead of Plaid Cymru in many seats in the 2019 Westminster election.  However, all but one of these had left UKIP  by 2021.  Four first joined the Brexit Party, before splitting again, three for the Independent Alliance for Reform and one for Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party; another UKIP MS also joined this party directly; whilst the last UKIP MS became an isolated Independent.

There has only been one UK devolved assembly that the Hard Right, reactionary unionist, UKIP and the Brexit Party have ever keen on, and that is Stormont.  Here reactionary unionism has dominated from 2006 until 2019.  UKIP formed links with TUV and PUP, whilst the Brexit Party supported the DUP and therefore, unlike UKIP, did not stand in the 2019 EU and Westminster elections in Northern Ireland.  But for both UKIP and the Brexit Party, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Senedd have been associated with liberal unionism and constitutional nationalism.  So, UKIP and the Brexit Party became conduits for anti-Scottish Parliament and anti-Welsh Senedd supporters.

Both UKIP and Farage’s Brexit Party successor, Reform UK, stood ‘abolish the Holyrood and Cardiff Bay’ candidates in the 2021 elections.  In Wales they were joined by the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party (another UKIP/Brexit Party breakaway) and George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain.  In Scotland, the main figure in Reform Scotland was a former Tory MSP and Galloway also joined its list for the 2021 Holyrood election.  There were also separate Abolish the Scottish Parliament candidates.  But none of these candidates even saved their deposits.  This reinforces the different political trajectories in Wales, and particularly in Scotland, already highlighted in the 2019 Westminster results.

There are latent ‘Abolish Cardiff Bay and Holyrood’ supporters in the Tory Party (and also in the Labour Party).  One indication of deep- reactionary unionist attitudes in the British Labour Party, was former Labour Minister, Jack Straw’s call in 2014 for a Westminster act “to make the Union indissoluble”[41]  – as much Franco as Farage.  And in the 2020 Labour leadership elections, candidate Lisa Tandy, also turned to the Spanish state, following the suppression of the Catalan Republic referendum, as an example of how a Labour government should deal with a call for another Scottish independence referendum![42] She dug a deeper  hole in her stuttering remarks when challenged, by saying she would support thr Spanish social democratic PSOE approach, with its emphasis on social demands. The PSOE is now in office and the Catalan political prisoners remained in jail, and there have been no wide ranging social reforms. Indeed what few reform there have  been have depended on the support of the pro-independence Republican Left of Catalunya.[43]

But for the moment, Johnson’s Tories only want to roll back the devolved parliaments’ powers, but still leave them as arenas for Tory careerists.  They can provide second or third, well-paid jobs.  Douglas Ross, Tory Depute Scottish Secretary of State, is an MP and MSP, as well as an international level football referee.  And in Wales, even those three UKIP/Brexit Party breakaway candidates who formed the Independence Party for Reform (rather than abolish the Welsh Senedd), and also stood in the 2021 Welsh Senedd elections, had been persuaded that jobs in devolved parliaments offer easy money.  There is no requirement to attend.  UKIP MEPs and councillors had already become notorious for absenteeism whilst and picking up either their salaries or expenses.

However, following the 2019  Westminster election there have been no elections to the UK’s other devolved assembly at Stormont.  Neither Sinn Fein nor the DUP, following their own poor Westminster general election results, wanted a new Stormont election, to kick-start the NIE.  Sinn Fein’s vote had fallen by 6.7%, the DUP’s by 5.4%.  Instead, Johnson was able to compel the DUP to rejoin the NIE in January 2020.  This was very much a second best for the DUP, after their previous role, closer to the centre of power, supporting the Tories in the Westminster government.

The DUP had supported Brexit because it wanted to further unravel the GFA and its successors, and to end ‘parity of esteem’.  Although Johnson’s Tories also want a hard Brexit, they still want to prop up the GFA, in some form.  This is why the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol has become so central.  The Tories would like to come to some accommodation with the EU, since they have wider capitalist interests in Ireland to protect.  And unlike the earlier Tory and Labour governments, which were quite prepared to back or retreat before intransigent unionism, when it had majority political support in Northern Ireland, this majority no longer exists.  The Tories now have a little more, room for manoeuvre, but given the other Stormont parties’ different aims, any deals are likely to be as opportunist as that with the DUP.

In protest at the Protocol, the DUP has again effectively removed itself from the NIE.  Elections for Stormont are due in May.  If the DUP has been courting Loyalist violence over the Protocol, so far thankfully without much success, Loyalists will probably move into hyperdrive should they cease to be the largest party in Stormont after the election.  Although Sinn Fein’s vote declined in the 2019 Westminster general election, and opinion polls since then show a further decline, ironically, they could still emerge as the largest party after the Stormont election.  The DUP’s support since 2019 has now fallen faster and further.[44]

The problem Johnson’s government faces is that, although the DUP may no longer be the largest party in Stormont after the May elections, it is still likely to be the majority Unionist/Loyalist party represented there, which provides it with veto powers under GFA.  This makes it difficult to create a new NIE without their support.  It will be interesting to see how the liberal unionist, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, (APNI), which is not signed up to the official Unionists/Loyalist camp, plays things, if it performs well in the May elections. They currently hold one of the NIE posts, but that is only with the assent of the DUP and Sinn Fein.

Despite the DUP’s backing for Loyalist violence (usually covert), its leaders have not been able to suppress the growth of APNI.  In 2013, Loyalists had attempted to burn out APNI’s East Belfast office and threatened the lives of its MLAs and councillors, as part of their Belfast Flag Protests.  Following this, DUP reached its electoral highpoint in the 2017 Westminster election, taking back the East Belfast seat from APNI, and ousting the SDLP in South Belfast.  This gave the DUP three out of Belfast’s four MPs.  The Loyalist base took this as a green light (although this is not a colour they like to be associated with!) for some ethnic cleansing in Belfast South[45]; whilst the DUP MPs entered into a governmental alliance with Theresa May’s Tory government. They had their own interpretation of whom the ‘hostile environment’ should be applied too, although they were becoming more ecumenical in their prejudices, now including Muslims and East European Gypsies as well as Catholics/Nationalists.

However, following the 2019 Westminster election, the DUP has been reduced to one seat in Belfast – East Belfast, losing South Belfast to the SDLP and North Belfast to Sinn Fein (which continued to hold West Belfast too).  But the biggest advance in terms of voting was for APNI which, although unable to retake East Belfast, increased its vote share by 8.9%, whilst the DUP’s fell by 6.6%.  Furthermore, APNI was able to retain its unionist credentials by not reciprocating Sinn Fein’s and the SDLP’s stand-down of candidates in any of the Belfast constituencies.  This undermines those, including Sinn Fein, who use APNI’s refusal to be part of the GFA’s officially sectarian-based Unionist/Loyalist political grouping to deny they are unionist and suggest they might support Irish reunification.

But APNI’s substantially increased vote in 2019, and the constitutional   nationalist, SDLP’s 3.1% increase, although undermining the position of both the incumbent DUP and Sinn Fein leadership of the NIE, is unlikely to provide any viable political alternative.  APNI’s and SDLP’s moderate ‘solutions’ depend upon continued EU membership and a liberal unionist government at Westminster.  Neither of these conditions were fulfilled on December 12th, 2019.  Yet if APNI and SDLP perform well enough in the May Stormont elections, they could be played by Johnson’s Tories, just as he played the DUP.

Whereas the post-1921 UK state-backed, old-style Partition provided a Stormont ‘democratic’ electoral facade for an Orange supremacist substate; the UK state-backed, new-style, Partition, Stormont mark 2 , can no longer provide such a façade.  This is true for Ulster Orange supremacy, as the DUP, TUV and Loyalist paramilitaries would like.  And it is also true for a reformed Northern Ireland, as APNI would like and some in the SDLP would accept.  Nor does the GFA, with its Unionist/Loyalist veto, provide the constitutional mechanism for achieving Irish reunification as Sinn Fein would like.


i) Irish reunification under the Crown Commonwealth and NATO

Despite (or perhaps because of) Sinn Fein’s poor performance in the 2019 Westminster election, its leadership began to talk up the prospects for Irish reunification.  This is based in on a particular interpretation of those same election results in Northern Ireland.  The DUP now has 8 (a drop of 2), Sinn Fein 7 (the same, l gain, 1 loss), the SDLP 2 (an increase of 2) and APNI 1 (an increase of 1), out of the total of 18 MPs.  Therefore, the reactionary unionist DUP had lost its absolute majority of MPs, leaving unionists (reactionary and liberal) with 9 MPs and constitutional nationalists with 9 MPs.

But if there were ever to be an Irish reunification referendum it is the total individual numbers voting ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ who would count, not the numbers of MPs possibly supporting either of these options (‘Yes’ – Sinn Fein, 7, SDLP 2 or ‘No’ – DUP 8, APNI 1) or the number of MLAs after May 2022, also possibly supporting either of these options.  When you look at the total percentage of people who voted in the 2019 Westminster general election for constitutional nationalist and possible Irish reunification parties, Sinn Fein, SDLP (and that would be pushing it for many), Aontu and PbP, it came to 39.8%.  This can be compared to the 59.9% who voted for unionist parties (the reactionary unionist DUP and UKIP, the reactionary/conservative unionist UUP and Northern Ireland Conservatives and the liberal unionist APNI. APNI made its position on the Union quite clear, when Naomi Long, its NIE Justice Minster, intervened in the 2021 Holyrood election.  She criticised the SNP for raising the issue of Scottish independence, which she sees as a “disruptive force”.[46] If the ever so mild SNP represent a “disruptive force’, then we can be pretty sure how APNI will react to Sinn Fein bringing forth an Irish reunification proposal.

Furthermore, any reunification referendum would have to be backed by the Irish Dail, before also being put to the people in the Republic of Ireland.  Much has been made of the 10.7% increase in Sinn Fein’s vote and their 14 additional TDs in the 2020 Dail elections.  However, the Dail’s balance between TDs supporting any action to bring about an Irish reunification referendum is currently 37 Sinn Fein, 3 PbP, 1 Aontu and possibly 1 RISE and 1 Independents for Change – a total of 43 TDs.  The partitionist Solidarity has only 2 TDs and could well abstain.  However, TDs opposing reunification, anytime soon, include 37 Fianna Fail, 35 Fine Gael, 12 Green, 7 Labour, 3 Social Democrats – a total of 94 TDs.

There may be scope for winning over some TDs or future candidates, particularly from Fianna Fail, but then reunification would be on an anti-Republican basis.  Any such reunited Ireland could join the British Commonwealth, abandon neutrality and sign up to NATO.  This would just lead to a larger Irish Free State, with new NATO air-force bases instead of the old British naval bases closed in 1938.  A likely barrier to this, though, is the Republic of Ireland’s continued membership of the EU.  Although Irexiteers – Right (some Independents, Aontu, Irish Freedom Party, National Party, Renua) and Left (Solidarity and the Workers Party) – could provide arguments, which would have the effect, intended and unintended, of subordinating a reunited Ireland even more firmly to US and British imperialism. This was the effect of what the Brexiteers, Right and Left, did in the 2016 UK EU referendum.

In the 2021 Irish Dail elections, Sinn Fein put on a Left populist face. This followed the major losses it experienced in its Right accommodationist campaigns for the 2018 Irish presidential election (down from 13.7% support in 2011 to 6.4%), in the 2019 Irish local elections (down 5.7% in the vote, losing 78 of its 159 councillors), and the EU elections (down 7.8% in the vote,  losing 2 of its MEPs).  Over both its Right accommodationist and Left populist phases, Mary Lou Macdonald has been party president, so the current leadership is quite capable of making another Right turn.

And one place this can be witnessed is Derry . Ructions have taken place in the city’s Sinn Fein cumann.   Sinn Fein faces competition for votes at the Westminster level for the Foyle constituency, at the Stormont level for its Foyle constituency, and at the local council level for Derry and Strabane.  In the 2019 Westminster election the SDLP easily took the Foyle seat from Sinn Fein, whilst Sinn Fein also faced challenges from Aontu and PbP.  Since the 2017 Stormont election, Sinn Fein and the SDLP both have 2 each of Foyle’s 5 MLAs, but Sinn Fein now faces competition from a resurgent SDLP, Aontu, PbP and the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) in the 2022 election.  Following the 2019 local elections Sinn Fein has 11, the SDLP 10, Aontu 2, PbP 2 and the Dissident Republicans 1 out of a total of 40 Derry and Strabane councillors.

In the face of the challenges this May for the Stormont elections from the more moderate nationalist SDLP (willing to cooperate with liberal unionist APNI and Fianna Fail), the socially reactionary Aontu, the Socialist PbP, IRSP and the Dissident Republicans, the Sinn Fein leadership has completed a bureaucratic, top-down clear out of its  Foyle MLAs associated directly or indirectly with the Republican struggle.  They installed two MLAs with no such connections (one who had only very recently joined the party, so the rules had to be quickly changed).  In Derry we are seeing a clear attempt to move Sinn Fein, backed by Mary-Lou Macdonald nationally, on to the political territory occupied by the SDLP (with both also trying to minimise defections to Aontu).  This is a likely harbinger of Sinn Fein’s national thinking on possible Irish reunification, making continued concessions to the Right and eliminating any prospect of a Republican reunification.


 j) The 2014 Scottish highpoint in the challenge to the UK state. RIC mark 1 and RIC mark 2

But, if post-GFA Northern Ireland was not an unqualified defeat, and the possibilities for continued resistance are still latent today, what is the political basis for a Republican Irish reunification today?  You need to look beyond nationalist and unionist party politics to see where this could possibly come from.

One clue lies in the falling electoral turnout in Northern Ireland in both Westminster and Stormont elections.  In the 1996 Westminster general election in Northern Ireland the turnout was 68.6%, but by 2019 it had fallen to 62.1%.  In the 1998 Stormont general election the turnout was 69.8%, but by 2017 it had fallen to 64.8%.  But the 2017 results likely reflect a temporary upward blip from the 54.9% turnout in 2016.  Despite the increased turnout in 2017 there was still a decline in those actually registered to vote.  There are now more, particularly young, people, who are less than enamoured with the choice between the two constitutionally privileged, British Unionist/Loyalist and Irish Nationalist/Republican groupings.

However, increasing electoral abstention rates in themselves don’t provide the political conditions for change.  Indeed, New Labour thought both decreases in party membership and working class electoral participation benefitted their programme of privatisation and other counter-reforms.  Some Socialists, though, take succour from participation in extra-parliamentary action to achieve reforms.  When such action leads to the development of autonomous class power, it is very much to be welcomed.  However, at some point this will come up against the existing institutions of state power.  We have seen far too many attempts by Socialists who then become reliant on the state institutions to bring about the reforms they seek.

One recent example has been provided by the climbdown of Syriza (which partly emerged from the autonomous Indignant Citizens Movement[47]) in Greece in 2015 in the face of the EU bureaucracy.  This despite Syriza and its government coalition ally being given a special referendum mandate to defy the EU bureaucracy’s draconian austerity measures.  And Podemos, which arose out of the Indignados movement in Spain, but entered into a Cortes coalition with the mainstream Social Democratic PSOE in 2019, provides another warning, of the demobilisation of autonomous organisations, the better to be able to participate in the institutions of the state.  Ironically, as has already been shown, Ian Paisley, on the Loyalist Right, showed the importance of maintaining a range of autonomous organisations whilst also intervening in the state’s institutions.

The rest of this section, however, will provide an important example of how to involve others in political action, who have not necessarily been involved recently of even at all. The 2012-14 Scottish IndyRef campaign, despite all its contradictions and cross currents, shows an example of an unprecedented ‘democratic revolution’. The numbers registered to vote was 97% whilst the turnout was 85%.  This was very significant and only happened because the wider ‘Yes’ campaign was largely taken out of the hands of the SNP leadership’s official ‘Yes Scotland’, something not anticipated either by the British unionist parties nor the SNP leadership.

Under Alex Salmond, the ‘New’ SNP, following New Labour, had become a top-down professional party, managed by a cadre of party full-timers.  The leadership wanted to jettison much of the SNP’s earlier hybrid Left/Right populist politics and locate itself firmly within what had become European-wide, neo-liberal social democracy.  This meant wooing big business, which in Scotland is dominated by the City of London’s Edinburgh outliers (Salmond had worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland, and was close to its former chief executive, Sir George Mathewson), the mainly overseas major oil and gas corporations (but also including the Aberdeen based John Wood Group) and big landed (e.g. Duke of Buccleugh) and other property owners.

Although only a handful of big business leaders, such as the homophobic Sir Brian Souter and Sir Tom Farmer had already moved into the SNP’s political orbit, they have been supplemented by lower level corporate and government lobbyists, such as former SNP MP, Andrew Wilson of Charlotte Street Partners.  Central to the SNP leadership’s electoral strategy to take over local government (especially the City of Glasgow) and Holyrood (and until recently access to Brussels and Strasbourg) is gaining leverage over their patronage opportunities.

Therefore, the SNP leadership’s long-term strategy for creating an ‘independent’ Scotland is to encourage those owning or managing key economic institutions in Scotland to see themselves as a wannabe Scottish ruling class, operating within the existing global capitalist order.  What the SNP leadership wants is a junior managerial buy-out of ‘UK Ltd’ assets in Scotland.  They also don’t want to challenge the highly paid and privileged managers of the administratively devolved, health, education and higher education sectors.  These managers run services on target setting, pseudo-market criteria and not by meeting the needs of those who use them.  And even when these public managers are clearly unionist, the SNP government prioritises their interests over their workforces, when they clash, even when the majority of these workers have probably supported Scottish independence, This happened in the grading dispute involving porters at Ninewells and Royal Victoria hospitals in Dundee in 2015,[48] and with the Scottish FE lecturers , when management attempted to break a pay and conditions deal, the Scottish government had already agreed to in 2016.[49]

Andrew Wilson, who was hired by the FE colleges’ management to help sabotage this deal, was appointed chair of the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission in 2016. ‘Sustainable’ had nothing to do with protecting natural resources but everything to do with trying to ensure that global corporations and Scottish businesses have a profitable environment in any future ‘Indy-Lite’ Scotland.  The Sustainable Growth Commission has been replaced by the Post-Covid 19 Futures Commission, chaired by Benny Higgins, ex-banker and chair of the Buccleugh Estates.[50]  SNP conferences may pass radical policies but these are ignored or side-lined, as the SNP leadership shows where its real class loyalties lie.

And if the SNP leadership were ever to achieve their ‘Indy-Lite’ Scotland, they would re-engage with the remainder of the UK (rUK) and the US in a general defence of the new Scottish ruling class’s position in an increasingly competitive and militarised world.  The SNP leadership’s decidedly ‘Indy-Lite’ 2013 White Paper constitutional proposals resembled an update of those of the Irish Free State.  These arose out of the crushing of the First Irish Republic, with the assistance of the UK state.  And it was only when the Irish Free State was established that it received official US recognition.  Any SNP-led, ‘Scottish Free State’ would also be under the Crown, have its finances subordinated to the City of London, and have military bases under the control of the British High Command and US controlled NATO.

Although, on paper, the SNP is still opposed to Trident, no real challenge to the US State Department and NATO can be expected from its leadership.  And in the (unlikely) event of a US government giving its support to Scottish independence, it is fairly clear that the SNP leadership would shift to accepting Faslane as Scotland’s own ‘Guantanomac Bay’ and take the money for its lease.  ‘Left’ Jim Sillars had already publicly advocated this. [51]  And it was other former Left, 79 Group members, Alex Salmond, Kenny MacAskill and Alex Neil, who took the leading role in getting the SNP to ditch its previous anti-NATO policy at its October 2012 special conference.

However, it was this SNP special conference, which led to a remarkable change in the IndyRef campaign.  The vote to support NATO was only narrowly won, and this led to the resignation of two SNP MSPs, John Finnie and Jean Urquhart and many SNP activists.  They attended the 800 strong Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) conference held in Glasgow in November 2012.  RIC had been initiated by the International Socialist Group (ISG) (a recent breakaway from the British SWP). The Scottish Greens, Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), Commonweal (a Scandinavian-style social democratic think tank), the Republican Communist Network (RCN), the SWP and Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers became affiliated; whilst members of the SNP, Labour for Independence, the ISG and another later SWP breakaway, the International Socialists Scotland (ISS), members from what had originally been  Solidarity (Tommy Sheridan’s vanity party breakaway from the SSP), some Anarchists and many members of various campaigns (e.g. Scottish CND), all took an active part.

The politics of RIC mark 1 ranged from Left social democratic and Left nationalist, through Movementist (semi-anarchist), to Republican Socialist.  RIC’s politics were summed up in its 5 Principles – i) For a social alternative to austerity and privatisation; ii) Green and environmentally sustainable; iii) A modern republic for real democracy; iv) Committed to equality and opposition to discrimination on grounds of gender, age, race, disability or sexuality; v) Internationalism and opposed to NATO and Trident.

Politically most of these principles came from a Left social democratic tradition, some of which can also be supported by those involved in various other campaigns.  And, wherever there were RIC local groups, these were often addressed by members from these campaigns and by trade unionists, including striking workers.  RIC members also attended their meetings and RIC contingents joined their demonstrations.  RIC members contributed to meetings in England, Ireland (South and North), Wales, Catalunya, Euskadi, Quebec and Greece.  Speakers also came from these countries and from Palestine and Kurdistan to Scotland.  Thus, RIC became involved in the kind of autonomous organisations needed to assert the pressure to win their demands.

The weakest RIC principle, however, was iii) ‘A modern republic for real democracy’.  In effect, this acted as a Left cover for the SNP’s immediate ‘Indy-Lite’ aims, which the SNP leadership claimed would be endorsed by a ‘Yes’ vote in the 2014 Indy-Ref.  Thus, this particular RIC principle acted a bit like Clause Four ‘Socialism’ in the Labour Party.  Nevertheless, vibrant debates took place over this right from the first RIC conference[52]  By May 2014, the RIC National Forum had moved considerably beyond RIC’s original tail-ending of the SNP leadership’s White Paper constitutional proposals.

The key thing contributing to this change was the growing political awareness following the take-off of an unprecedented mass movement, across the length and breadth of Scotland and beyond.  RIC very much contributed to this.  But there were several other organisations which also did this, including Women for Independence, Scottish Asians for Yes, English Scots for Yes, Labour for Independence, the National Collective – {Artists} Imagine a Better Scotland, Commonweal and bella caledonia; whilst many of the official ‘Yes Scotland’s local groups acted quite independently of the official leadership.  And it was RIC which pioneered the mass registration campaign, which led to many thousands signing up in the housing schemes, who had long been ignored by New Labour.  After this registration drive, many local ’Yes Scotland’ groups also became involved in follow-up canvassing and ensured that voters made it to the polling booths on the day of the referendum vote.

Unlike the Brexiteer’s ‘Leave’ campaign, almost all the media – from the BBC, the red-top tabloids, to all but one ‘quality’ paper (the Sunday Herald, but only in the last two weeks) – were opposed to or suppressed publicity for Scottish independence.  However, this was countered by a massive online pro-Yes campaign, public meetings throughout Scotland (in which ‘No’ supporters were often given a platform for debate, something which was not reciprocated), imaginative public and social events, the National Collective’s ‘Yestival’ tour across Scotland,[53] ‘Yes ‘shops and cafes, whilst Glasgow’s George Square acted as the ‘Yes’ movement’s ‘Tahrir Square’.  All these activities massively contributed to Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’.

This wider campaigning formed the basis for ‘Project Hope’.  This transformed the public campaign, moving it away from the conservative nationalist approach originally promoted by Alex Salmond and the SNP leadership, in order not to upset their hoped-for support from Scottish business leaders.  And just as Cameron’s ‘Better Together’ was adorned by some Labour unionists, so ‘Yes Scotland’ was adorned by some more Radical figures, Dennis Canavan, Patrick Harvie (Scottish Greens) and Colin Fox (SSP).

But despite the illusions of the SSP leadership, there was never any doubt that, as soon as the IndyRef campaign was over, ‘Yes Scotland’ would be ditched by the SNP leadership.  Instead, if there had been a ‘Yes’ victory, the SNP leadership was going to bring the leaders of Scottish Labour, Lib-Dems and Tories into their negotiating team with the UK government.  If the SNP’s ‘White Paper’ proposals were decidedly ‘Indy-Lite’, then the low bar set by such a negotiating process would block the most adept ‘limbo dancing’ Indy negotiator!

Thus, between 2012 and 2014 there was a massive and unforeseen growth in the IndyRef campaign.  RIC’s own conferences, the first in November 2012 was attended by 800 people and the second in November 2013 was attended by 1100 people (the third after IndyRef was attended by 3000).  These events pushed RIC beyond its formal Clause 4-like principle – ‘a modern republic for real democracy’ – sometime in the future, after the SNP government had negotiated Scottish independence.  Instead RIC’s May 2014 National Forum agreed upon the democratic republican approach put forward by the Edinburgh RIC group.  Key sections of the motion[54] included:-

Organisation after September 18th

  1. A ‘Yes’ vote on September 18th represents an expression of ‘the sovereignty of the people’. Political arrangements based under the Westminster principle of the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament are no longer valid.
  2. The official ‘Yes’ campaign will be ended after September 18th. RIC should aim to bring people together soon as possible after this date. The aim would be a bigger convention than the last two RIC conferences.
  3. Suggested organisations to be involved could include existing local ‘Yes’ groups, other ‘Yes’ campaigning organisations, organisations which had not been able to take a ‘Yes’ position but may now want to become involved in the making of a new Scotland, e.g. trade unions, community organisations, specific campaigns, e.g. disability.
  4. On this basis regular wider forums (people’s assemblies) would be held in as many areas as possible to influence the negotiating and constitution-making processes.


  1. There should be a rejection of the idea that the negotiating team with Westminster should be confined to those chosen by the SNP government.
  2. The negotiations should be held in public (on camera rather than ‘in camera’), with the proceedings televised.


  1. One suggestion was that the constituent assembly proposed in the White Paper should be an elected body. An alternative suggestion was that members of the constituent assembly should     be drawn by lot, like juries.
  2. The calling of a constituent assembly should be preceded by a mass consultation exercise, which involved people in every   community in Scotland.

This represented the political highpoint of RIC’s campaign, focussing all the other good work that had been done on the ground.  However, the mainly Movementist leaders, in Glasgow ISG and their closest backers in ISS, had little idea what to do after the apparent ‘No’ victory on September 18th, 2014.  Having shunned any independent public political organisation during the IndyRef campaign, they tried to repeat the political transition made by many in the Indignant Citizens Movement in Greece to Syriza, and by many in the Indignados in Spain to Podemos.  An attempt was made to hijack RIC by its Movementist leaders and to form a programmeless electoral alliance without any strategy – RISE: Scotland’s Left Alliance. [55] Everything was reduced to a single tactic, gaining representation in Holyrood based on an ill thought-out manifesto for the 2016 elections.  The SSP, its overtures to the SNP leadership shunned,[56] signed up, on condition that its leader Colin Fox was one of the two RISE candidates for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

Prior to the creation of RISE, a Scottish Left Forum (SLF) had been created to give the appearance of wider political participation; but the real talks took place behind-the-scenes, between the ISG and SSP.  Their highest hopes were RISE gaining 2 MSPs and holding (perhaps along with the Scottish Greens) the balance of power at Holyrood. This way they thought they could have some influence on a post-election government.  But in such a scenario, RISE MSPs would be relatively easy meat for the SNP leadership, just as Podemos members of the Spanish Cortes proved to be for Pedro Sanchez, centre social democratic, PSOE.  Podemos entered a Spanish governmental coalition in 2019, at a time when several Catalan Republic supporting politicians and activists were political prisoners.

However, the future political trajectory of RISE had already been anticipated in the SLF pre-meetings.  When it was suggested, by the RCN, that the first letter ‘R’ and ‘should stand for Republican, this was rejected for the more populist Respect (which had a bad antecedent in the name of George Galloway’s vanity party).  In political terms RISE was at a lower level than the highpoint achieved by RIC at its May 2014 National Forum.  But the abandonment of an active Republican perspective would have made any coalition deals with the SNP easier. The other issue that was studiously ignored was the impending EU referendum, perhaps a hint of the backward political direction that would be taken by most soon to be ex-ISG and leading ISS members – down the ‘Lexit’ Brexit rabbit hole.  Once again RIC was at a higher political level, and the issue of the EU referendum was debated in the Edinburgh local group and at the 2015 RIC National Conference.[57]  But since the by now ex-ISG RIC leaders were looking to a possible hung parliament and a deal with the SNP, then avoiding such a contentious issue made electoral sense to them.

But following RISE’s miserable electoral showing in the Holyrood elections (1.0% on the Glasgow additional member list and 0.5% on the Lothian list), the SSP quickly jumped ship. The SSP further retreated into a  ‘party-sect’, which key remaining SSP  leaders had inherited from the old Militant.  This sort of behaviour had been productively abandoned by the Scottish Militant majority on the formation of the Scottish Socialist Alliance in 1996, so its re-emergence has had a negative effect on the wider Scottish Left.  RISE’s poor electoral showing and the departure of the SSP left members of the old ISG  and its Movementist ISS allies politically rudderless.  They wrapped up RISE in 2017 and created Conter instead.  The main inspiration for this seems to be Jacobin in the USA, which became heavily involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic Party, US presidential candidacy. Some Conter supporters also became attracted to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour campaign. The notion that Corbyn or Sanders, trapped in overwhelmingly Right-led parties offered Socialists a viable future was even more displaced than hopes in Left social democratic/Left populist majority-led parties, like Syriza and Podemos, which at least got as far coming  up against their respective states.

Conter, though, became a substitute for ex-ISG’S hoped-for RISE MSPs, whom they hoped the SNP leadership would take notice of.  But who does Conter now want to attract the attention of ?  With RISE’s lack of any electoral clout, the SNP leadership didn’t even need to jilt them, but the organisers of Conter felt scorned anyhow.  So Conter has now billed itself not as anything positive, but as ‘Against the Scottish Establishment’ (read the SNP and Scottish Greens).  No longer sure of what they stand for, and firmly rejecting any programme and strategy, Conter still had one other job to perform.  That was to try and kill-off RIC.[58] This was needed to clear the decks for others.  Although the Conter seemed unsure who – Alba’s George Kerevan or Kenny Macaskill, or maybe even a retreat back into British Left social democracy (though that option too retreated, when Jeremy Corbyn no longer provided any political inspiration, after December 12th 2019).

Conter did mobilise a considerable number for the RIC conference in January 2020, including former Glasgow ISG, Dundee Democratic Left and Aberdeen Anarchists. Most of these (with the exception of some Edinburgh ISS members) had not lifted a finger for any RIC activities for several years.  However, the still existing local groups, Edinburgh and Angus & Mearns, some reformed local groups. e.g Dundee and Glasgow, as well as many, especially younger, want-to-be members did not accept the attempt to close down RIC.

If we were to apply John McAnulty’s way of thinking about the GFA in Ireland to Scotland , then the ‘No’ vote on September 18th, 2014 would appear to represent a final defeat, which the Scottish Left has not recognised.  However, although this vote was an undoubted setback, following Tommy McKearney’s thinking on the GFA instead , IndyRef was not an unredeemable defeat.  That frustrated 2014 ‘democratic revolution’ still represents unfulfilled hopes, and the conditions for its fulfilment are still latent in the current political situation.  Indeed, in the absence or either the constitutional nationalists or the liberal unionists having any effective strategy to counter Right authoritarian populism and reactionary unionism, the political space is there for a wider ‘nternationalism from below’ Republican Internationalist Coalition to break-up the UK state, reunify Ireland and to end the UK’s and Republic of Ireland’s alliance with US imperialism.

This is why RIC mark 2 was set up in January 2022.[59]  Its new RIC Principles build on the May 2014 RIC National Forum and place it firmly within the politics of democratic republicanism.

1)      For a democratic, secular, socially just and environmentally sustainable Scottish Republic

2)      Action based on the sovereignty of the people, not the Crown, leading to a Constituent Assembly

This is followed by an updated version of the other original RIC Principles

3)      Action to establish universal health, care, education, housing, income, pensions, and trade union rights; and to win land reform and challenge environmental degradation

4)      Equality and opposition to discrimination on grounds of sex, gender, religion/belief. disability or age

5)      Solidarity with struggles for workers’ rights, democracy and self-determination, based on internationalism from below

 And a new recognition of the significance of cultural activity in the struggle for self-determination in its widest sense is shown in:-

6)      Support for Scotland’s artistic and cultural renaissance in all its languages

The addition of ‘internationalism from below’, in Principle 5, represents the other significant gain, which emerged from the best of RIC mark 1’s practice during Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution.’  This countered the UK’s bureaucratically imposed ‘internationalism from above’. This had been supported by all mainstream unionist parties in ‘Better Together’; the Right populist UKIP; all the Unionist and Loyalist parties in Northern Ireland; the Orange Order; the hybrid Right populist/neo-fascist BNP, and its breakaways including the openly fascist Britain First; George ‘Just Say Naw’ Galloway; the Left unionist Communist Party of Britain and Left Labour Campaign for Socialism (CfS) and their shared Red Paper Collective (RPC).

Beyond the UK, Pope Francis also warned against Scottish independence.[60]  Not to be outdone, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland stated the 1707 “Treaty of Union secured the Protestant religion… and any change would be a provocation of God”[61] Barack Obama backed “a strong and united UK”.[62] Both the EU President, Jose Barroso from Spain, and European Council President, Herman von Rumpoy from Belgium, publicly opposed Scottish independence, saying it would threaten Scotland’s continued EU membership (this was before Brexit Britain!).  Barroso had his own reasons for opposing Scotland’s exercise of the right to greater self-determination.  He represented the superficially restructured Castilian/Spanish unitary state bequeathed by Franco (but now with extensive devolution, which can be constitutionally rolled back, as the  Right in Spain , first the Centre Right, Ciudadanos, now the Hard Right, Vox want).  As with  the UK, Spain’s EU membership (reserved for existing states, not nations) had not prevented their resort to repression and death squads in either Northern Ireland or Euzkadi..  And since the 2014 Scottish IndyRef, the Spanish state has repressed the entirely democratic and peaceable referendum attempt to set up an independent Catalan Republic in 2017 .

Chinese premier, Li Kequiang, also came out against Scottish independence,[63]  no doubt with Tibet and Xinjiang on his mind.  David Cameron attempted to cultivate Russian premier, Vladimir Putin’s support against Scottish independence,[64] before the Russian Federation took over Crimea and invaded Luhkansk and Donetsk in March 2014.  Putin’s prior brutal suppression of the Muslim Chechens to maintain the Russian Federation was obviously of no concern to Cameron.  Russia Today, though, did provide strident populist unionist, Galloway with his own slot, Sputnik [65]  It was only in 2017, that Alex Salmond, by then ex-SNP Holyrood First Minister was given his own vanity show on Russia Today.[66]  Putin likes to keep his options open.

Has any independence campaign ever faced such widespread international ruling class opposition?  In the face of this, the SNP leadership’s own attempts to cultivate their own ‘internationalism from above’ alliance, with the USA (supporting continued NATO membership) and by appealing as a long-standing historical European nation to the EU bureaucracy, had no effect whatsoever.  The SNP didn’t even provide a speaker for the pre-referendum ‘Go For It’ rally in Cardiff organised by Leanne Wood, then republican leader of Plaid Cymru.  This connection was made by RIC.[67]

There was only one arena where the SNP leadership promoted internationalism and that was domestically.  SNP leaders accepted an IndyRef franchise based on a civic Scottish nation, i.e. people living in Scotland no matter from which state they have come and who choose to become Scottish citizens.  Although, under the UK constitution, the 2014 IndyRef did not allow all residents living in Scotland to vote, the franchise did include all EU residents (and 16-18 year olds) soon to be excluded from the 2016 EU referendum.  This is because the Tories’ 2016 referendum franchise was based on ethnic British subjects (with a few historic exceptions).

And in a demonstration of the beneficial continued impact of the 2014 IndyRef rainbow alliance, made up of Scottish-born, other EU citizens, BME and LBGT+ members in 2020, Holyrood’s Scottish Elections and Franchise Act “extend{ed} voting rights to all foreign nationals with leave to remain, including all those granted refugee status.  It also extend{ed} candidacy rights to foreign nationals with indefinite leave to remain, and to those with pre-settled status.”[68]  Even Scottish Labour and the Lib-Dems were shamed into giving support.  In contrast and demonstrating the reactionary nature of the Brexit campaign, promoted by its Hard Right leaders, Johnson’s current UK Elections Bill proposes further franchise restrictions, even for British subjects.[69] 

Furthermore, similar reactionary thinking has been transmitted, mainly by that minority section in the Scottish independence movement, who also gave support to a Scoxit Brexit.  Some have suggested the use of a Scottish ethnic franchise in any future IndyRef, confined to the Scottish born. They want migrants who have lived long enough in Scotland to  pass some equivalent ‘Scottishness’ test to the ‘Britishness’ test proposed by Gordon Brown and Michael Gove.  And, as well as trying to detach EU and BME participants from the 2014 ‘rainbow alliance’, some of these Scottish populists have also tried to break up its LBGT+ participants.  Their attacks have initially focussed on transgendered people, but for some this is just a mask for their homophobia and misogyny.  Alex Salmond’s vanity Alba Party has attracted such people.[70] However, its 2021 Holyrood general election vote was only 1.7% on the regional list.  Meanwhile former, ‘Wings over Scotland’ blog activist, Stuart Campbell, writer of the much read Wee Blue Book, which took on Unionist myths during Indy Ref, has fully morphed into Scotland’s equivalent of Katie Hopkins.

Similar Right populist and reactionary religious line-ups have been paralleled in Ireland.  These include those who, in 2018, opposed the repeal of the Republic of Ireland’s constitutional Eighth Amendment which outlawed abortion; those who supported racist Peter Casey’s presidential bid the same year; and those who stood for the socially conservative or Hard Right in the 2019 Irish 1ocal council elections and for the Dail in 2021.  In 2019, such candidates also appeared in the Northern Ireland local council elections and in the Northern Irish constituencies for the Westminster general election.  One of these groups, the socially conservative Aontu which already has 2 Northern Ireland councillors (as well as 3 Republic of Ireland councillors and 1 TD), is putting up 9 candidates for the May 2022 Stormont election – more than PbP.


k) A Socialist Republican ‘internationalism from below’ response to the new contradictions

In order to effectively challenge the Hard (and Far) Right’s anti-democratic strengthening of the UK state and its deepening alliance with the USA, we need to develop our own ‘internationalism from below’, ‘rainbow alliance’ of the exploited and oppressed united in our diversity.  To achieve we also need to challenge political sects which resort to the ‘abstract propaganda of the word’ (e.g. only a Socialist or Workers’ Republic will do) and those Dissident Republicans who resort the ‘concrete propaganda of the deed’ (e.g. bombings and shootings).

The alternative is to see each and every capitalist arena of exploitation, oppression and alienation, as schools of struggle, in which we develop our autonomous class power. This is a political approach which can lead to emancipation, liberation and self-determination (in its widest sense).  And central to all these schools of struggle is the battle for democracy. This is the Socialist Republican approach.

In Scotland, we now have the Republican Socialist Platform[71] which is eager to move beyond the Socialist sect ‘internationals’ in these islands, e.g. the SWP’s now mainly diplomatic International Socialist Tendency (following the Irish SWP’s abandonment of its party road to become a Network); and the mainly Irish-based, International Socialist Alternative, which split from  the Committee for a Workers International (CWI). The CWI had been run by Militant Labour then the Socialist Party of England and Wales – SP(E&W) and has a Socialist Party of Scotland branch office and now a  partitionist Cross Community Labour Alternative in Northern Ireland.

These sects also largely prevented the now almost defunct European Anti-Capitalist Left from ever advancing much beyond being a diplomatic ‘international’ for standing in elections or getting speakers at alternative globalisation conferences.  But it was these sects’ commitment to Grexit, Brexit and Irexit, which led to their nationally focussed (shared with the much larger Hard Right) and completely ineffective opposition to the EU bureaucracy’s massive austerity offensive.  What was required, as a minimum, was the sort of massive cross-EU (and beyond) ‘internationalism from below’ protests mobilised against corporate capitalist globalisation and imperial wars up to 2003.  And these also involved a rainbow alliance from BME, LBGT+ groups, and those from stateless nations and indigenous peoples.  It was the Zapatistas in Mexico who sparked off the whole alternative globalisation movement.  They came to Scotland at the time of the large Cop-26 protests in Glasgow in October 2021 coinciding with the official Cop26 conference. The Cop26 Coalition  which opposed  this official event, also mobilised a similar rainbow alliance, whilst activists  provided support for striking Glasgow cleaners.[72]

RIC formed part of the Cop26 Coalition, placing particular emphasis on the role of stateless nations and indigenous peoples. Clearly the readiness of RIC mark2 to join campaigns which ‘challenge environmental degradation’ and contribute to an ‘environmentally sustainable Scottish Republic’ has a wider resonance beyond Scotland.  The border is either an irrelevance or a barrier to the creation of an environmentally sustainable re-united Irish Republic. Too many Socialists have long been trapped into their national statist roads to Socialism.  This is indeed the essence of Left social democratic or Left populist roads to ‘Socialism’.  However, it is hard to see how an Eco-Socialist future can be anything other than international, given that nature’s life sustaining circuits, air, water and soil, operate with completely disregard to man-made borders.

RSP has already been in discussion with Republican Socialists in Wales, whilst RIC has been in contact with Undod.  Undod sees itself as RIC’s equivalent organisation in Wales. [73] The eruption of the Black Lives Matter protests, leading to the successful toppling of the statue celebrating slaver, Edward Colston, in Bristol, has highlighted British imperialism’s central role in promoting racism.[74]  The consequent furore surrounding the statue in Edinburgh of Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville, ‘uncrowned king of Scotland’ and promoter of the brutal war in Haiti to uphold slavery,[75] has highlighted the key link between Union and Empire.  Black and other minorities living in the UK, have little reason to defend the ‘gains’ of a united Britain so often trumpeted by the British Left.  The UK state’s ‘hostile environment’, its treatment of the Windrush generation and the victims of the Grenfell Towers fire, demonstrate its hostility towards or the invisibility of BME members under the Union – “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”.  And asylum seekers and migrants are going to be amongst those most wanting Irish reunification, as an alternative to the hardening border of the Brexiteers, which as a consequence will also be policed for the EU bureaucracy. An addiction to murderous walls and moats is shared by the UK state and EU bureaucracy alike.

By themselves RIC’s initials won’t bring fond memories to Ireland!  But an All-Islands Republican Internationalist Coalition – AIRIC – means ‘agreeable’ in Gaelic.  It’s time we had our own ‘intentionalism from below’ agreement.


Allan Armstrong, 15.3.2


[1]    John McAnulty, Ireland’s Partition: Coda to counterrevolution (IP:Ctc), Chapter 8, p.6 (Socialist Democracy (Ireland, 2021, Belfast)

[2]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 9, p.5

[3]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 9, p.5

[4]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 5, p.3

[5]    John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 5, p.3

[6]    John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 9, p


[8] – pp 36 and 46




[12]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 5, p.5

[13]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 9, p.4


[15]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 1, p.7

[16]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 2, p.7

[17]    John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 1, p.7

[18]    John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 2, p.6

[19]    John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 2, p.6

[20]    John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 10, p.3

[21]    Robbie McVeigh & Bill Rolston, “Anois ar theact an tSamhraidh –  Ireland, Colonialism and Unfinished Revolution, (ICaUR) (Beyond the Pale Books, 2021, Belfast)


[23]    Tommy McKearney, The Provisional IRA – From Insurrection to  Parliament, (TPIRA) p .202, (Pluto Press, 2011, London)

[24]    Tommy McKearney, TPIRA, p 189

[25]    Tommy McKearney, TPIRA, p 190

[26]    Tommy McKearney, TPI,A, p 193

[27]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 7, p.6

[28]  Irish_Treaty

[29]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 7, p.6


[31]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 10, p.3

[32]    John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 10, p.7

[33] – An La Dearg: A bad day for Sinn Fein


[35]   John McAnulty, IP:Ctc, Chapter 9, p.3




[39] – Michael Leiper





[44] election#Graphical_summary







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[51]  genuine-self-determination-means-acting-like-republicans-now/

[52] announce-yestival-tour-dates/

[53] and






[59] independence-warning-division















[75] genocide/


also see:-

  1. Prologue to democratic revolution: Part 1 – Allan Armstrong

2.   Emancipation &  Liberation: Irish Coverage from 2002 – E&L Editorial Board

3.  The RCN and the campaign for Scottish self-determination – E&L Editorial Board

4.  The Story of Edinburgh RIC – Allan Armstrong


For further  coverage of the development of Socialist Republican links between Scotland and Ireland see:-

From Grey to Red Granite – pp. 30-39 and pp. 56-60 –  Allan Armstrong